Chretien de Troyes was a French poet, and he was the first great exponent of the romanticisation of Arthurian legend. His narrative romances, composed c.1170–c.1185 in octosyllabic rhymed couplets, and they include Érec et Énide; Cligès; Lancelot, le chevalier de la charette; Yvain, le chevalier au lion; and Perceval, le conte del Graal.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing around 1130 with History of the Kings of Britain, introduced the first literary creation of the character, King Arthur. Wace introduced the idea of courtly love. Chretien de Troyes built and expanded on this base.
Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about the conception and birth of Arthur at Tintagel and Arthur's marriage to Guinevere (he calls her Ganhumara). Wace created the Round Table and Excalibur. Chretien de Troyes is the man that created Camelot, Lancelot, and the Holy Grail. Although Chretien de Troyes did not describe a grail as a chalice, he appears to have used the word in the meaning of a flat serving dish. The current description of the Grail as a cup came later from by Robert de Boron.
Little is known of the life of Chretien de Troyes. He was born probably in Troyes. Chretien de Troyes frequented the court of Countess Marie, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who later became queen to England's Henry II. So he had a knowledge of court life, and perhaps of England. One story is that In the 1190's Hugh De Morville of Cumberland & Westmorland is said to have the story of Arthur to the Continent when he replaced King Richard of England as a hostage of the Austrians. This work influenced Ulrich Von Zatzighoven who in turn influenced Chretien De Troyes
Chretien de Troyes translated Ovid's Art of Love and a version of the Tristan legend. He then turned to the Arthurian theme with Erec, about an Arthurian knight who is put to various trials to claim the love of Enide. Arthur is said to have his court at Cardigan. Guinevere, Kay, Gawain and Lancelot is mentioned. The court of Arthur is portrayed as a romantic, chivilrous place.
The next romance by Chretien de Troyes is Cliges, which again takes place round Arthur's court. The main character, Cliges loves Fenice. But Fenice marries Clige's uncle, the emperor of Constantinople. Magic potions with various powers pepper the story.
His next romance was Yvain. Yvain kills the knight of the fountain, then falls in love with Laudine, the widow of the knight. However he decides to go off for a year and a day to join Arthur's court, and misses out on the return date. She then rejects him, and after a series of adventures, including nearly killing his best friend in combat, and rescuing a lion which then follows him everwhere, the lovers are eventually reconciled.
The Knight of the Cart brings in Lancelot as a major character. Guinevere,is kidnapped by Meleagant, and rescued by Lancelot. Lancelot's has many adventures, including flaming lances and perilous beds. He has to cross a bridge made of a single sharp sword to rescue Guinevere.
Perceval, is the main character in Le Conte du Graal by Chretien de Troyes which looks at the spiritual side of knightly quests.
Perceval knows nothing of chivalry as he has been brought up by his mother deliberatly in ignorance of such things. One day Perceval meets five knights by chance and joins them. He meets Gornemant de Gohort, who warns him against asking too many questions, a trait that Gornemant says is ill-mannered.
He falls with Blancheflor, whom he rescues from her enemies, but he finds that his mother has died of a broken heart.
Perhaps Perceval main adventure happens when he meets a mysterious fisherman who offers him shelter in his castle. When Perceval, he finds the fisherman already there, lying on a couch in the great hall. A strange procession enters the hall, with a young man carrying a bleeding lance, two squires with a golden candelabra, a beautiful maiden carrying a golden graal, and another beautiful woman carrying a silver carving dish. Remembering Gornemant's warning not to ask questions, Perceval fails to ask what the ceremony means. And the consequence of this is that the fisher king is not healed, he would have been had Perceval asked whet the procession meant. Perceval learns that the Fisher King is sustained by a single mass wafer served to him each day in the graal. The story by Chretien de Troyes ends here.
King Arthur in Literature